It is commonly acknowledged that college students often make poor decisions while they're away at school. For many, college is known as a time of care-free behavior that might include more fun than education.

According to ValuePenguin's survey, college students not only frequently engage in high-risk, and often life-threatening behaviors. but they generally lacked knowledge on how to deal with the consequences.

Key findings

  • While many college students admit to texting while driving (47%), neglecting to wear a seat belt (37%) and driving under the influence of recreational drugs (18%), 28% don't know the name of their health insurance provider and more than half don't know how to file a claim with their auto insurer.
  • Approximately a third of college students have passed out from drinking alcohol, with nearly a quarter having passed out in the past year. However, almost a fifth of college students are not confident they know what to do if they need medical attention.
  • Nearly one in 10 college students admit to stealing from another student (suggesting up to two million students nationally participate in theft while pursuing their degrees), but most do not carry renters insurance to insure against theft.

Driving dangerously

Many college students risk their health and well-being with unsafe driving practices, including drug and alcohol use.

From failing to wear a seat belt, to distracted driving, and driving under the influence, college students frequently engage in high-risk behaviors behind the wheel. Here's what students reported in our survey:

Texting and seatbelt use

Nearly half of all college students admit to having texted while driving and — on top of being distracted behind the wheel — 37% say they've ridden without a seat belt in the last 12 months. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), these two dangerous behaviors tend to go hand-in-hand for young drivers, and the combination can be fatal for anyone from drivers, to passengers and pedestrians.

Such behavior is concerning given that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attributed 3,142 deaths to distracted driving, and in 2020, one of the main causes of traffic fatalities was failure to wear a seatbelt.

Driving under the influence

More than one in ten college students says they have driven under the influence of alcohol. Although this may be a small share of all college students, the consequences are deadly: At worst, drunk driving could end in fatalities for the driver, passenger, and pedestrians.

The NHTSA estimates that one person dies every 48 minutes in the United States due to drinking and driving. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that more than 1,500 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from unintentional alcohol-related injuries, including DUI fatalities.

This graph identifies the high-risk driving behaviors of college students.

Despite their high risk for car accidents, more than half of all college students (53%) don't know how to file a claim with their their i.

The lack of awareness of critical financial information, including their personal insurance details, could prevent college students from getting and paying for adequate medical care in the event of an accident.

Substance use and other health risks

High-risk behavior among college students is not limited to driving. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), alcohol, drugs, prescription and tobacco use are more common among college-aged adults than in any other age group.

Nicotine vaping, for example, saw a significant rise amongst college students before the pandemic. In a 2019 survey on drug use from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a third of all full-time college students reported binge drinking in the prior month.

Students in our survey say they had participated in these behaviors in the past year:

  • Nearly a quarter of college students passed out from drinking alcohol.
  • More than a fifth have taken prescription drugs to help them study.
  • Thirty-eight percent had sexual intercourse without a condom.

Each of these practices risks physical harm as well as susceptibility to many types of illness, including addiction, depression and sexually transmitted diseases.

Despite the dangers of substance abuse, many of the students in our survey also said it was easy obtain recreational drugs and prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly 10% of full-time college students suffer from alcohol use disorder. Data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that up to 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 experience alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape, annually.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also notes that young people are disproportionately impacted by sexually transmitted infections, as the 15-24 age group accounts for nearly half of new gonorrhea cases and almost two-thirds of new chlamydia cases every year.

While the public health concerns associated with such practices are widely known, most college students indicate that it is easy for them to obtain alcohol or find recreational drugs.

This graph identifies how easy it is for college students to obtain drugs and alcohol.

Unprepared to seek medical assistance

More than 19 million students attended college or university in 2020. According to our survey data, millions within that group are inadequately prepared to deal with a health issue or seek proper medical care when it's needed.

Despite college students' easy access to drugs and alcohol, a large number of students are unsure how to deal with an accident or medical emergency.

A third of college students don't carry their insurance information in their wallet, and 28% cannot name their health insurance provider. The lack of health care readiness extends further:

  • Eighteen percent of college students are not confident they can find medical attention when they need it.
  • Twenty-one percent don't know where to get help when they feel depressed.

Where to find mental health resources

Many campuses offer mental health resources, and may even provide services for dealing with substance abuse. For students with insurance, a medical insurance provider can also help navigate which services are covered.

But there's lot's of other support available, too. Students who need someone to talk to can contact SAMHSA's free helpline at all hours, at 1-800-622-HELP (4357), or contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Limited financial and physical security

In addition to the public health concerns associated with college student behaviors, many college students are in a rough financial position. It's estimated that more than 80% of college students rely on some form of financial aid, and about 40% take out student loans to pay for college. That means millions will be in debt when they graduate..

Yet college students' financial security extends beyond borrowing for education. In another 2019 survey, nearly 40% of college students reported experiencing food insecurity during the prior 30 days and 46% said they had experienced housing insecurity in the past year. . Nearly 10% of college students admitted to stealing from another student, and a fifth expressed feeling unsafe in their living situation. Here's what they said:

  • Eleven percent of male college students reported stealing from a peer, while only 8% of female college students reported doing so.
  • Twenty-three percent of male college students expressed feeling unsafe in their living situation as well as 18% of female students.

In 2020, the Association of American Universities found that 13% of college students had reported experiencing sexual assault. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, some of the most common crimes on campuses, prior to the pandemic, included sexual assault, burglary and car theft,

Despite the prevalence of crimes on campus, many students are unprepared to replace the personal property they need for school. Only 34% of college students reported having renters insurance, which can help protect against losses from theft and other damage. Similarly, only a third of students indicated that their electronics, including laptops and other devices they rely on for school, were insured.

And while most students lack insurance, 66% said it would cost well over $2,000 to replace all of their personal belongings on campus. In fact, nearly one in 10 estimated their personal belongings are worth more than $10,000. By comparison, the average cost of renters insurance in the U.S. is $16 per month.


ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 862 college students, ages 18-25. The survey was fielded at the end of 2019.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.